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21st Century Americana: Intermediate Piano Solos.

by Elisabeth L. Lomax. Mel Bay Publications, Inc. (P.O. Box 66, Pacific, MO 63069), 2002. 70 pp., $17.95. Intermediate.

Elisabeth L. Lomax has compiled an interesting and varied set of ten American folk songs for inclusion in her collection, 21st Century Americana. Some of the tunes are traditional favorites such as "Down in the Valley" and "All the Pretty Little Horses." Others, such as "Bold Jack Donahue" and "The Housewife's Lament," are less familiar to us today. Each tune has been set in a particular style usually suited to its expressive content and its text. Styles include waltz variations, boogie, blues, fandango and new age, among others. Included with each folk song is a simple presentation of the unaccompanied tune with its full text, historical information about the tune, its circumstances, a brief sound recording bibliography, practice suggestions for the student, a secondo piano part and a general MIDI accompaniment in CD format. Additionally, there are interesting study questions sometimes provided to generate thought and discussion about the more provocative folk texts.

The songs Lomax selected are high-quality and enduring American folk songs, quite sing-able, each with unique expressive features. The solo piano arrangements are authentically and appealingly set in the selected style. For each arrangement and within the selected style, Lomax has provided significant textural variety for multiple verses. Melodies are cleverly designed to appear in several locations within the texture and require substantial skill on the student's part to bring them to the fore. Accompaniments are usually free-voice--not requiring strict adherence to a particular number of voices. As a result, there is a disappointing lack of attention to contrapuntal interchange and some inconsistent stemming of chordal textures, making the arrangements more difficult to read initially and sometimes awkward pianistically. Bass lines often move around with open fifths on top, providing extended harmonic plateaus and evoking a folk style of instrumental playing. Occasional harmonic oddities are scattered throughout the arrangements.

The secondo parts are placed at the end of the book and are generally not as difficult as the solo parts. The pieces are most effective, however, when performed with the secondo part. The MIDI accompaniment CD contains the secondo part performed on a digital keyboard with the typical electronic special effects. The practice suggestions are friendly and engaging, offering sound advice and highlighting more difficult passages.

The layout and binding could perhaps be improved in a second printing. The information for each song (tune, practice suggestions, arrangement and so forth) appears in a variety of orders, making it confusing to determine whether to turn forward or backward locate things. The binding is unlikely to stay open on most piano racks.

All in all, though, Lomax has created an entertaining means of acquainting upper intermediate piano students with some of America's finest folk music. Reviewed by Timothy Shafer, University Park, Pennsylvania.
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Author:Shafer, Timothy
Publication:American Music Teacher
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 2003
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